20 years ago today SEGA released what would end up being their final home gaming console, the Dreamcast, in North America. After the disappointment of their previous console, The SEGA Saturn, they were looking to make a splash with their powerful new machine. The hype was huge and the launch was a big success with 18 titles available on day one and they ended up selling a quarter of a million consoles in the first 24 hours. SEGA’s VP of marketing Peter Moore proclaimed it to be “the biggest 24 hours in entertainment retail history“.
Despite the early success, issues such as the failure to get certain big 3rd parties on board and the impending release of the PlayStation 2 led to rapidly declining sales, and by January of 2001 SEGA announced that they were discontinuing sales of the console. After less than 2 years, The Dreamcast was gone and SEGA had exited the hardware business.
Despite what appeared to be a complete failure though, I look back at the Dreamcast as one of my favorite home consoles of all time. It was ahead of it’s time, unique, and most importantly had an incredible lineup of games. As we celebrate it’s 20th anniversary this week, I’m thinking back on the games that made the Dreamcast so special, and why it will always hold a place in my heart as one of my favorite times in all of gaming.
10. Sonic Adventure
The game that kicked of the launch of the Dreamcast is a title that will always live fondly in my memory, even if a recent return to the game made me realize that my memory is where it should firmly remain. The blistering speed in which you bounced around the levels, the thrill of outrunning the killer whale in Emerald Coast, and even caring for my virtual pets, the Chao, on the Dreamcast’s VMU are all things I loved at the time. I wasn’t a big Sonic fan originally (being primarily a Nintendo kid) but this game quickly converted me. You have to launch a SEGA console with Sonic the Hedgehog and it was a fantastic showpiece for the powerful new hardware.
9. Phantasy Star Online
The first online RPG to hit home consoles, PSO was a revolution in gaming, and they somehow managed to do it all over the Dreamcast’s built in 56k modem. I don’t know what wizardry they used to make that happen, but in my memory it ran pretty flawlessly. While I was never particularly good at the game and I don’t think I ever got very far in the campaign, being able to meet up in a lobby with other players and traveling to the planet of Ragul to battle monsters together was something that blew my mind as someone who was primarily a console gamer.
8. Space Channel 5
One of the greatest things about the Dreamcast were the completely original and truly bizarre games available for it. The rhythm/dance game Space Channel 5 definitely falls into the that category. I mean… the story is about an interstellar news reporter named Ulala who must battle a bizarre race of aliens called the Morolians who have been kidnapping people and forcing them to dance, and the only way to save them is to break out her own funky fresh moves. It was a weird concept but the bright visuals and catchy tunes made it a blast to play. Oh, and did I mention that it featured a cameo by Michael Jackson? Something that probably seemed like a much better idea back in 2000.
7. NFL 2K1
When EA Sports decided not to bring their hugely popular series Madden NFL to the Dreamcast, SEGA responded by creating their own exclusive football game developed by Visual Concepts. Not only did NFL 2K fill the football void left by Madden, but the series ended up becoming a huge critical hit, with it’s follow-up NFL 2K1 setting the bar for video game football and remains to this day the highest rated sports game (not starring Tony Hawk) of all time according to Metacritic. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a Vikings fan and it featured Randy Moss on the cover. 🙂
6. Skies of Arcadia
Twenty years ago, JRPGs had established themselves as one of the most popular genres in gaming. Titles like Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger and Suikoden were becoming worldwide sensations and SEGA was hoping to capitalize on this with an exclusive JRPG of their own. Skies of Arcadia told the story of sky pirate Vyse as he travels across floating continents battling the evil Valuan empire. It was filled with great characters and a fun story, but sadly never became a big hit despite critical success and a later port to the Nintendo GameCube. We’ll probably never see the sequel that the game deserves, but it still remains one of my sentimental favorite JRPGs of all time.
5. Jet Grind Radio
Of all of the games on this list that have disappeared into obscurity over the years, this one is the most surprising for never having made a resurgence in recent years. Dripping with style and featuring an amazing soundtrack (that I still listen to today), Jet Grind Radio has you rollerblading and spraying graffiti all over the city of Tokyo-to, all the while competing against rival gangs such as Poison Jam & the Love Shockers and escaping from an overly aggressive police force that for some reason feels that the proper response to vandalism is to break out the tanks and helicopters. Like I said, I think this game would fit in perfectly in 2019.
Fighting games have never been my thing, but every once in awhile one of them catches my eye and reels me in. Street Fighter II was a favorite back in the arcades, and Marvel vs Capcom 2 (also on the Dreamcast) had me hooked with it’s cast of fighters, but no fighting game has ever connected with me the way that Soulcalibur did. Super fun weapon based combat, impressive looking levels, and a great cast of characters (my personal favorite was Kilik) had me playing for months on end. The series has thrived and continues to put out sequels to this day, but in my mind none of them come close to the fun of the original. To this day I can remember playing with my young nephew who always chose Lizard Man, and could often times beat me despite being about 4 years old at the time!
Of all of the weirdness that the Dreamcast saw, nothing can compare to the true insanity that was Seaman. In the game, players must raise and care for their creepy fish type creature as it grows and evolves. Using the Dreamcast’s internal clock, you’re required to check in on and feed your Seaman every day or risk it perishing. The weirdest thing about your aquatic companion though is definitely his disturbingly human-like face and the conversations you have with it using the included microphone. Yes, you can talk to your Seaman. And he’s kind of a dick. You feed him, monitor his temperature and oxygen, and speak with him to get him to evolve. And the whole thing is narrated by the one and only Leonard Nimoy. It’s hands down the weirdest game I’ve ever played, and one I’ll never forget (as much as I may want to).
2. Crazy Taxi
This adaptation of the arcade classic is not only one of the greatest Dreamcast games of all time, but it’s one of the best racing games ever made. Adam and I knew the 2 maps from the game like the back of our hands, dropping off fares and making tight turns with a lightning quickness. The controls took some getting used to, but once you got it you could pull off insane jumps, drifts, and boosts to get people where they were going. The game featured a catchy (if not repetitive) soundtrack featuring Bad Religion and The Offspring and some quirky voice acting that two decades later still has Adam and I repeating lines like “I wanna go to the baseball stadium!“. The hours drained away as we tried to rack up a high score and we still hold out hope that one day this series will get the sequel that it truly deserves.
More than any other game on this list, Shenmue left a lasting impression on me. Nearly 2 decades later and I still think back on it as one of my favorite gaming experiences ever. You play as the young Ryu as he searches for the man who murdered his father and attempts to unravel the mystery behind their relationship. What made Shenmue so special was the cast of characters and the way they brought the town of Yokosuka to life. Characters like Nozomi, Fuku-san, Tom & Chai have stuck with me for years and exploring every inch of the town kept me enthralled from hours on end. And while the game has become the butt of jokes for some of it’s absolutely cheesy dialogue, that awkwardness became part of it’s charm. It was ambitious and ahead of it’s time, and stands as my favorite Dreamcast game of all.
There are so many other classic games that I could go on about, from Resident Evil: Code Veronica & Power Stone to Virtua Tennis & Samba de Amigo. For a console that lasted less than two years, there is an absolute treasure trove of classic games that totally hold up today. From the VMUs to the built in modem, the Dreamcast was bold and attempted to push gaming forward in interesting new ways, it’s a shame that it didn’t find the success that I think it deserved. It was ahead of it’s time and was gone too soon.